Drona Acharya can often be found roaming the floor of India’s Best Restaurant, the hidden gem at the back of Woodlawn Shopping Center.
Acharya, who has owned India’s Best for a year as of earlier this month, greets every guest and monitors …
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Acharya, who has owned India’s Best for a year as of earlier this month, greets every guest and monitors the buffet, stocked with mouth-watering curries and other spicy and sweet dishes from southern Asia.
Never far from Acharya’s mind, though, are the people of his native Nepal, where the former Hindu priest turned Christian pastor once ran an orphanage, and where he said there is still much need.
“My heart was always with the kids in the street,” Acharya said. “The parentless, clotheless, foodless. I had affection for them.”
The middle child in a family of nine, Acharya grew up in Biratnagar, a teeming industrial city in eastern Nepal. At one time a Hindu priest, he converted to Christianity and became ordained as a pastor in India. While working with a fellowship for prisoners in Kerala, India, Acharya got to know many of the prisoners’ kids, and decided to go home and start an orphanage.
He housed nine children, ages 5 to 9, in a small rented house, but after a time found it hard to keep them all fed. In 2007, after passing off operations of the orphanage, Acharya signed up as a missionary to come to America, where he hoped to make enough money to support the orphanage.
“Things went entirely the opposite,” Acharya said. “I wanted to work for the church, but I ended up working in a restaurant. I was allowed to stay there, so I had shelter and food. Whatever I made, I could save. When I moved out, I wasn’t making enough to save and send home. I couldn’t continue the orphanage, because the money I made wasn’t sufficient. The kids were split up and sent to different organizations. In my heart, I am going to re-establish that orphanage.”
Acharya got married while living in Virginia, and his wife’s connections brought him to Denver, where he worked at Little India at Sixth Avenue and Grant Street.
“I saw people loving Indian food, and I thought if I owned a restaurant, maybe I could support the orphanage,” Acharya said. “Once I start turning a profit, I can do more to help people who need love, shelter, food and clothes.”
Nepali hospitality is at the core of Acharya’s philosophy, he said.
“In Nepal, guests are considered an incarnation of God,” Acharya said. “That is how I feel about our guests here.”
All of the food at India’s Best is made from scratch every morning. Acharya recently brought on his cousin’s husband, Parash Ojha, also of Nepal, as his head chef. Ojha has experience cooking Indo-Chinese food, which Acharya plans to add to the menu.
“I can make so many things gluten-free and vegan,” Ojha said. “We’ll make special orders, too. Whatever you’d like, we’ll make it. I’m happy to get honest reviews. Give me suggestions and feedback so I can really make this the best.”
Acharya has made an impression on his customers.
“The food is great, but the owner and his wife are wonderful people,” said Judy Saxena, munching on naan with her husband and son. “They work so hard. We’re really grateful. Drona comes out at dinner, welcomes all his guests, and asks how everything is, because he genuinely cares.”
The lunch buffet is hard to beat, especially for under $10 a person, said Judy’s husband Jay.
“He makes such a great spread. You can’t even try it all. There’s not even room on your plate or your stomach.”
Learning the ropes
Acharya said his decade in America involved quite the learning curve.
“It was so hard to get used to America,” Acharya said. “I didn’t know how to use a microwave. I didn’t know how to turn on the hot water in the bathroom. I didn’t know how to use a Western toilet. I didn’t know how to eat a hamburger — I would take it apart and eat it all piece by piece. I thought it was a salad on top of meat.”
Besides English, Acharya also speaks his native Nepali, as well as Hindi and Malayali.
Life in Nepal is very different.
“There is no electricity in much of the country,” he said. There’s little political stability. Here there are two political parties, there they have 88 or something.”
Still, the Nepali mindset is easy to see in Acharya.
“The people of Nepal are very welcoming. They respect foreigners. Here, you don’t talk to strangers. There, everybody talks to you. They might not know your language, but they will say Namaste to you and say come to my house, I’ll feed you.”
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